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Fri, 01 Apr 2005
A mountain bike course should be inspiring - 23:19
The network of single track extending through Greenhills had been built slowly since around 1995 and 1996 by a host of trail gnomes, the Kowalski Brothers, Alan of Jelly Bean fame, DeathMarch, etc. The tracks from Mad Cow descending from Dairy Farmers hill through Freight Train, or various other nearby tracks, onward to the magic that was Labyrinth and on toward Bombalina and Jelly Bean, or a whole host of other options available for a single track loop through the area. All of these tracks, within easy riding distance over the centre of the city were often taken for granted until we lost them. This area was a mountain bike Mecca drawing people from all over Australia, and for good reason, the riding in Greenhills was something to be savoured.
Flowing tracks, not all smooth, not all bumpy, berms, good use of contour lines, the occasional obstacle or diversion around something more difficult to ride, stretching far enough to enable complete loops on single track as long as 15 or even 20 KM. Also with the tracks this close to town motor bikes were rare users of the area, though often they could be heard, or sighted on Mt Stromlo itself (where there were more tracks, and more to come too)
The first Mont 24 Hour race was held in 1999, the course utilised a loop set up on single track and fire road through the Greenhills area, a similar course was used again in 2000 and 2001. After the 2001 bush fires the 24 Hour race had to move most of the course over onto Mt Stromlo for 2002 and use some of the new tracks developed off the back of that hill with a final 5 KM looping back through Tricky Dick and Back Track on the campsite side of the river in Greenhills. The tracks on Stromlo, possibly due to less use, possible due to more motor bike induced damage, and at times due to the design and layout of the tracks were not quite as good as those in Greenhills that were lost to the fires. However finishing up on 5KM of incredible greenhills track before coming back into camp certainly helped bring the grin on once more.
Anyway using these trails that had slowly appeared and changed over the years we ran the 24 hour race was a godsend, the availability of good tracks meant a course could be constructed for the event that would inspire riders and put a grin on their faces. In a race (I would argue in any race, but certainly in a 24 hour race, especially one we like to think of as the best mountain bike event in Australia) the course should be fun, it should be so much fun that team riders become jealous of the solo riders as they get to keep riding and thus have more fun. Team members should be sitting in their camp wishing they could be out there doing a lap all the time, you should finish a lap wanting to go and do another immediately because you had so much fun on the previous one.
After the 2003 bush fires CORC had to move the Mont 24 Hour race to a new location, we chose Kowen Forest, in the north east corner of the ACT this area remained unburnt and was the largest forest area left, all of which meant we could hold mountain bike races in it. The biggest problem however is, due to the distance from the centre of town, no mountain bikers had ridden in the area much or had the inclination to develop trails, CORC had to go in and develop a brand new 17 KM race course from scratch. Paul Cole volunteered for the task and subsequently spent week after week driving and walking through the forest areas working out where a basic loop might be able to go and getting ready to put new track in. Paul did a fantastic job in mapping out the basic loop and getting the tracks in with teams of people motivated to come and help we did get a course in there rather quickly.
Now we get to some problems, first, to build good single track is difficult, and time consuming. The International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) have a host of articles and links and such about building the best quality single track you can. Properly constructed tracks should last 30 or 40 years with little to no maintenance under a heavy load of riding. IMBA have a team of people that travel the world and consult with mountain bike groups around the world, and run trail building courses and training. The IMBA guys have been to visit us in Canberra a few times and many of us have participated in some track building work with them. However to build IMBA quality tracks can take such a long time, even with a team of 5 to 10 people you may only be able to develop around 200 metres of track in 3 or 4 days. All this depends on the available materials, the soil structure, the slope and contours and a few other elements.
CORC did not have the man power or time to build the 24 hour course to these standards, for the 2003 race we had to get a course in and ready in time for the race, other concerns were secondary. We also come up against some other problems in Kowen Forest. Because of the size of the forest and the distance from town the area has always been popular with motor cross riders, long before we started venturing into the forest. They have a few varied motor bike single tracks spread through the forest though they mostly used to spend their time riding on the fire roads. Once we started putting tracks into the forest they started using them, almost as soon as they appeared. Some motor bike riders have the skill to be able to improve rough tracks as they ride them through their style and use of the throttle. Most however do not and do not give any thought to the fact their bikes can rip a track to pieces on corners and braking.
However I would argue that the better constructed a track is the less damage a motor bike can do to that track. Fun single track has a quality known as flow. You never have a downhill section that picks up speed followed by a sharp corner as this requires breaking heavily before the corner and loosing speed for the flat bit afterwards. Instead to go downhill you should finish with a long gradual corner to change directions, followed by a turn up the hill a bit to wash of speed naturally. Transitions to quick turns and sharp corners should not be made immediately either, tracks should gradually get tighter or have a forced rise or other speed impediment just before a slow section to speed is washed of naturally. Also tracks should follow contours well mostly, veering up and down with a well benched edge into the side of the hill if the ground is not flat. You also have to ensure tracks are designed so water will run off them naturally rather than pool anywhere on the track or run down a section of track causing water induced ruts. One more consideration is the use of berms on fast corners to keep speed and flow as it should be at that point. To construct a berm properly you need to build it with rocks to keep it in place under load, then pack dirt into the rocks, preferably wetting the dirt before use to get a more resilient berm.
If you put the effort into designing tracks as detailed above a motor bike would also follow the flow of the track, not cornering (with excessive thrust biting into the trail) or braking suddenly for a corner (with their much higher weight) and powering out of the slow corner (thus digging up the track some more). Most sections of the 24 hour course do not have the above considerations taken into account, and a few times brand new unridden sections of track have been put into the race not long before the event. Untested track, that which has not been ridden will not have any problems worked out and is likely to be both rougher and more susceptible to damage than older or better designed track.
Now I am not saying the track sucks as it currently stands, the 24 hour race is still a lot of fun. The event itself is great and any riding can be fun so there is enjoyment to be had, however in my opinion the course does not inspire people as described above. Previous courses or other courses however do and have brought this level of awe and fun into the sport. Alan Anderson has built a large amount of tracks in Sparrow Hill and also built some of the more fun tracks in Greenhills. Rod Higgins designed the Nationals course that used to be out at Blue Range before the 2003 fires wiped it out. Richard Bonjter has ridden a bike more than most people and also has built the occasional fun single track (of which some were burnt in Greenhills). The Kowalskis have built some inspired tracks in Greenhills and even one track that is now used in the new Mont course was built by them, and I must say it is one of the best sections of track in Kowen. So I have been talking to these people and working out ways to go about this fun track business. Alan and I will be out in Kowen a bit getting a good idea of what needs to be done to improve the 24 hour course. All of this is with the aim of making the 24 hour course more fun this year.
I have a list of 7 dates (some just one day, some the entire weekend) leading up to the 24 hour race that we will announce soon on the CORC website during which we hope people who agree with my ideas above and want to put the effort into improving the existing 24 hour course loop will come and help out at. Often when building a track it appears to flow when walking through it, it appears to be smooth as silk when walking over it, but as soon as you ride a bike on the track you realise that those two things are not entirely true. I want people to come and help, come and spend half a day or a whole day on one existing 200 metre stretch of track, bring their bikes out and make each section we work on flow, make each section tough to stand up to motor bikers, make each section of track we work on a hell of a lot of fun to ride.
Initially I think, as suggested by Jim, we need to ensure the start and the end of each lap are incredible fun. Fortunately we have the switchbacks at the start which are a hoot, and definitely a signature piece of the course. If we can work out some way to put a signature piece in the last 2 KM of the course also that will help people's memories from each lap be positive. There will be other work after that too though. We probably also need to do some maintenance to the switchbacks to help them stand up to the punishment from motor bike riders and from the race itself.
Need a new different atom feed generator - 19:03